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Faculty experts comment on the refugee crisis

Syrian refugees walk outside their tents at a camp for internally displaced persons in Atmeh, Syria, adjacent to the Turkish border.

‘We can’t keep doing what we are doing’

As of Sept. 3, almost half of the Syrian pop­u­la­tion has been dis­placed by tur­moil that has engulfed the Middle Eastern country since 2011, according to the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tional Devel­op­ment. About 7 mil­lion Syr­ians are dis­placed within the country, and more than 4 mil­lion have sought refuge in coun­tries from Jordan to France,USAID said.

This crisis has recently gar­nered greater atten­tion from the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity as an influx of refugees are making their way into the Euro­pean Union and to coun­tries that are strug­gling to deter­mine how best to help. Images of a 3-​​year-​​old boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach have gone viral on social media, showing for the world the hor­rors of the crisis.

Serena Parekh, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of phi­los­ophy and expert in the phi­los­ophy of human rights, says that the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity must acknowl­edge its respon­si­bility to assist refugees before the crisis can be prop­erly addressed.

We have a moral oblig­a­tion,” said Parekh, who is writing a book on the topic. “When we look back on this in five years or 10 years or 15 years, we are going to be ashamed at our­selves at how we han­dled this. No one can play the ‘it’s not my problem’ card anymore.”

Parekh also argues that those fleeing Syria are not migrants; they are refugees. “Migrants leave their native country for better oppor­tu­ni­ties; refugees are forced to leave their coun­tries because of fear,” she said. “They are risking every­thing because they have to.”

No uni­fied plan for refugee resettlement

The crisis’ expo­nen­tial growth can be attrib­uted in part to the lack of a uni­fied, global plan for refugee reset­tle­ment, Parekh explained, noting that each nation has dif­ferent poli­cies and pro­ce­dures for addressing the refugee situation.

For example, Turkey’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment is funding refugee camps for 1.9 mil­lion refugees there; Lebanon has no camps for the 1.1 mil­lion refugees in its country; Hun­gary has begun con­structing a wall along the Ser­bian border to pre­vent refugees from entering; and Ice­landic cit­i­zens are asking their gov­ern­ment to accept more refugees.

To me, this is ‘the’ issue of the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” said Denis Sul­livan, a pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs and the co-​​director of the Middle East Center at Northeastern.

Sul­livan has seen one refugee camp first­hand, con­ducting research at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan since 2013. Oper­ated by the United Nations Refugee Agency, Zaatari opened in 2012 and is now one of the country’s most pop­u­lated com­mu­ni­ties with some 80,000 people.

Zaatari has elec­tricity, road­ways, its own economy,” Sul­livan explained.

‘No end in sight’

In order to quell the crisis, Sul­livan said the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity must address the ini­tial cause: the ongoing con­flict in Syria. More than 210,000 people have died since fighting started there in 2011, first as an anti-​​government uprising and then as a civil war.

There is no end in sight to the Syrian con­flict,” Sul­livan said. “A deter­mined American-​​EU-​​Russian ini­tia­tive must be under­taken to end this crisis that threatens sta­bility throughout the Middle East and now increas­ingly inside Europe.”

For now, Parekh said the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity should examine tem­po­rary reset­tle­ment with the poten­tial for returning home in a few years.

The reality is that it may be gen­er­a­tions before people return,” Parekh said. “We have to be able to help.”

-By Joe O’Connell

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